If you’ve heard of ‘trackmaker’ DJ Okawari, then you will be acquainted with his talent to produce lyrical and tranquil, yet vibrant and exciting tracks with technical finesse. Based in Shizuoka, he carries a motto that he stays faithful to in his creative enterprise:
「音楽と日常の共存」 “Coexistence of music and life”
He emphasises the strong influence of personal experiences and feelings that surround his music. Perhaps this is fundamental in any musician who wants to convey honest sentiments through musical language.
The sound world of his 2011 album Kaleidoscope is as the name suggests: ripples of instrumental colour, touching silky melodies and a signature modern hip-hop idiom, all coming together under an ambient sonic landscape.
The album opens with ‘Encounter’, a seductive number with a classic neo-soul drum line, layered with a lush, celestial synth pad and piano octave riff, refined acoustic guitar strumming, jazzy saxophone melody and an unknown singer with a warm, smoky voice. ‘Brown Eyes’ is another beautiful track where a ‘Ryuichi Sakamoto style’ meets polished RnB beats: the poignant and heavenly high piano riff and arpeggios embellishes a subdued hip-hop drum line and soulful, rich vocals from Brittany Campbell, to produce an effect that is both foot-tapping and crystalline. It is impressive how in most of his tracks DJ Okawari carefully exploits his heritage by crafting melodies throughout his sonic journeys that sound inherently ‘Japanese’ and exotic, but makes it a relevant puzzle piece in a contemporary, hip-hop beat soundscape.
Artists in this chilled, neo-soul lounge style often have the tendency to sound repetitious through an album, but DJ Okawari manages to pack a variety of musical backdrops and sonic flavours. ‘U’ gives you a chance to sway their head or body, with support from Stacy Epps’ sweet flowery vocals, while ‘Another Sky’ and ‘A Cup of Coffee’ are pleasant hip-hop sketches that you may well catch in a local café, decorated with authentic jazz piano, guitar and sax tunes.
The roster of vocal talent in Kaleidoscope is wholly enchanting. A particular highlight for me is ‘Brighter Side’, sung by Amanda Diva. Full of attitude, versatility and panache, she brings a touch of ‘Alicia Keys-style’ ambience with meaningful lyrics about conquering struggles in life, taking us back to aesthetics of traditional black music.
“Okawari” is a phrase meaning ‘to ask for another helping’, often used during mealtime. In this context, “Okawari” could refer to his desire for new and enticing musical ideas. Rumour has it that 2015 will see his new album released. Let’s hope that DJ Okawari will live up to his name and immerse avid listeners in a galaxy of feel-good tunes.
- Diorama (Album)
- Mirror (Album)
© Isaku Takahashi